Anime Expo - Nobuyuki Onishi - July 18, 1999

In the U.S., serious art is seen as something that doesn't appear on a TV screen or between the pages of a comic book. the same is true in Japan, said Nobuyuki Onishi. The painter and lithographer is one of the few people who cross the boundaries between high art and popular art in his home country. At the end of the noted anime movie Royal Space Force - Wings of Honneamise, Onishi's paintings set the tone for the ambiguous ending. The producer of that film commissioned Onishi to create those paintings.
"In Japan, high art and popular culture like anime and manga are separate," Onishi said. "Some people see a long distance between the two, but I don't think anime is low culture." In fact, Onishi grew up enjoying anime like Astro Boy, and American animated cartoons such as Popeye and Tom and Jerry (he even liked Lassie and The Untouchables). However, as Onishi's desire to become a painter grew and he attended art school in college, his interest in anime waned. Onishi started painting like Rembrandt, he said.
Then came the call from the Honneamise producer, asking for him to create paintings for the movie, that reopened Onishi's eyes to the value of anime. "I thought I wasn't interested in it because animation was just for kids and I was an adult. He told me this movie isn't for children, it's for adults." finally, when Onishi learned that his favorite composer was working on Honneamise, he took the commission from Gainax, the company that made the movie.
Onishi now sees a consistent irony in the way the Japanese high art world tends to look down on anime and popular art. It's always been that way, he said, noted that the ukyio-e prints of the 19th century, now considered masterpieces, were treated as the pop art of their day. High art in 19th-century Japan was copied from China, said Onishi. Nowadays, Western-styled art is considered high art and anime is the pop art.